StoryNexus is Open

Trailed for some time as a new creative tool from the team at Failbetter responsible for Fallen London (aka Echo Bazaar), Cabinet Noir and the Night Circus, StoryNexus is now open for public use.

StoryNexus supports authors in building what Failbetter calls “quality-based narratives” — stories where the available nodes and choices depend on the player’s stats at that point in the narrative. The result is somewhat more fluid than the typical choose-your-own-adventure model, in that it doesn’t impose a strict order to the branch points, but allows the player to explore whichever of the available storylets happen to be open to him.

The only other tool I know of that currently supports this particular blend of world model and choice-based storytelling is Varytale — not entirely coincidentally, since Failbetter had considerable input about Varytale at the design stage. But where Varytale tends towards the more literary possibilities of the format, with long prose passages and a book-like presentation, StoryNexus aims more at RPG-like explorable worlds reminiscent of the original Echo Bazaar. The tool allows authors to select from artwork and theme options, and in the future will also allow authors to upload their own imagery to accompany their creations.

StoryNexus authors may offer their work for free, or may charge for it, as they like, using StoryNexus’s built in system for putting purchase gates on content. (This functionality is I think closed at the moment, but scheduled to open very soon, offering a 60/40 split with authors on any revenue a story may earn.)

Edited to add: there’s also some coverage at the Escapist.

Choice-based Narrative Tools: inklewriter

A little while back I did an interview with Rock Paper Shotgun which included, among other things, a question about what I thought of inklewriter, the branching narrative tool from inkle studios. That interview was published in a funky CYOA format, which was cool, but it means that it’s hard for me to point people at my answer to that question. And people ask me pretty frequently about different branching-narrative tools that might be out there.

Fortunately, Cara Ellison who did the interview was kind enough to say that I could reprint my answer here. It is attached below, along with some extra thoughts based on a little more work I did with inklewriter after the interview. (Also, if you’re here because you’re interested in checking out a variety of related tools, see the list in the interview as well as my previous thoughts on writing for Varytale.)

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Phrontisterion, and some more thoughts about tools and the art

A couple of weekends ago I went to Phrontisterion 7, a living-room-sized conference on interactive storytelling run by Chris Crawford at his home in Oregon. Participant comments from that are now available.

For context for people who weren’t there: it was a really wide-ranging discussion about what projects currently exist in interactive storytelling and how/how well they work (Saturday) followed by forward-looking stuff about what to do next (Sunday). On Saturday, we talked about (among other things) Prom Week and Storybricks, Storyteller, LA Noire, Chris’ plans for Storytron 2.0, StoryNexus, ChoiceScript, and the project that I’m working on for Linden Lab. Though there weren’t formal presentations on these items, people also talked a bit about conventional interactive fiction, and about Varytale and StoryDeck.

Sunday was directed more at the question of “well, what next?” — and that was a more challenging discussion, one that I think frequently frustrated Chris. We generally agreed that we’re not trying to reproduce the Holodeck as such, at least not in its full technicolor, surround-sound, smell-o-vision glory, and quite possibly not in most of its other aspects either. I may possibly have gone on a short rant on the value of text, darn it, you know, with words, and how text is not inherently a second-class citizen and a cheap substitute for the greater expressivity of visuals. (Visuals are cool, and if there were to be a Holodeck that could conjure up a 3D immersive sensory experience, you bet I would want to try that thing out for sure. But. The art I personally want to create is made of language.)

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Writing for Varytale

As mentioned in a previous post, Varytale is a platform for interactive stories. It’s put together by Ian Millington, the same person who created the Undum tool, but Varytale goes quite a bit further.

Writing Tools

Undum provides a slick front-end and a way to build a few choices and otherwise leaves everything up to the author (hey, you don’t mind learning some javascript to code your story, do you?). It’s been used for a couple of neat IF works, including Deirdra Kiai’s 3rd-place Comp 2011 winner The Play and Andrew Plotkin’s The Matter of the Monster.

By contrast Varytale comes with a complete authoring tool; a website where books are showcased and attractively presented online; the capacity (eventually) to use one of several payment schemes to charge for content; and feedback and statistics tools that allow the author to collect ratings and comments on content, and to see which story choices are especially popular or unpopular. These tools require vastly less coding than traditional interactive fiction, but they do allow for world state and player stats-tracking. (Some time back, I described why CYOA without world state is a bit too restrictive for most of what I want to write.)

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